Prom spending on the rise as formal dances evolve

Prom spending on the rise as formal dances evolve

lfabian@macon.comApril 5, 2013 

  • 2012 prom spending

    National average: $1,078
    Northeast average: $1,944
    Southern average: $1,047
    Western average: $744
    Midwestern average: $696

    Average prom spending by annual family income
    Under $20,000: $1,200
    $20,000-$29,999: $2,635
    $30,000-$39,999: $801
    $40,000-$49,999: $695
    $50,000-$74,999: $988
    $75,000-plus: $842

    Source: Visa Inc., April 13, 2012

Geraldine Davis looked all over Middle Georgia for the perfect prom dress.

“I think I am exhausted trying to make sure everything is right,” said Davis, of Warner Robins.

She’s not even the one going to the dance. It’s her daughter, 17-year-old Keziah, who is attending the Warner Robins High School senior prom April 20.

“When she puts it on, she’ll know she can’t live without it,” said Davis, who was shopping with her daughter recently at Ingleside Bridals & Formals on Vineville Avenue. “This is her senior prom, so that’s the way I want her to feel.”

Keziah chose a bright coral satin halter gown rimmed with sequins at the empire waist.

Her mother estimates she’ll spend $600 by the time Keziah has her shoes, flowers and beauty treatments for hair, nails and makeup.

That’s three times what Davis spent nearly 30 years ago on her own prom, but a little more than half the national average.

A Visa survey last spring showed American families spend an average of $1,078 on the prom, which was a 33.6 percent increase over the $807 spent in 2011.

Interestingly, lower income brackets spent the most money.

Families making under $20,000 a year spent an average of $1,200, which is second to the $20,000-$29,000 bracket, which spent an average of $2,635, the survey showed.

Parents making more than $75,000 spent an average of $842 and families with incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 were the most frugal, coming in at an average of $695.

High-dollar spending for teen dances shocks Macon’s Hines Causey, who has been in the formal wear business for 47 years.

“I was born in the ’30s during the Depression and I can’t imagine girls spending $600 on a gown,” said Causey, who owns House of Hines. “Sometimes a daddy comes in with a daughter and if she wants the dress, he’ll fork it out.”

Causey’s wife, Bettie, realizes in our modern culture, prom is one of the few times young people really dress up.

“It’s amazing what they’ll wear to a funeral or a wedding,” she said. “The whole world has gone casual.”

Girls tend to start their shopping in January, while the boys don’t plan that far ahead.

At about noon Friday, Chauncey Warren came in the Causeys’ shop.

“I need to get a vest for today,” said Warren, who was attending the Southwest High School prom about eight hours later.

While women’s fashions have changed significantly over the years, the tuxedo has remained the classic standard for men since the late 1800s.

Stratford Academy freshman Dylan Ogle was trying on his black formal suit for his first prom. He’ll escort a senior girl on his arm for lead out.

“It’s awesome,” said Lyn Ogle as she admired her son. “I love that slim fit.”

Bettie Causey said tuxedo styles are going back to the trimmer styles of the late ’70s that gave way to bulkier, boxy coats in the decades that followed.

With young men wearing their pants at various levels on their hips these days, she’s careful to ask their preference before measuring them, she said.

The males occasionally break out of the standard black or white formal jacket pattern and opt for something a little more exotic ­-- camouflage, orange and baby blue tuxedos can be specially ordered.

Men can have the James Bond look with a “Skyfall” replica navy tuxedo with a black collar.

With Ogle’s son going to his first prom at age 15, she could be in for years of formal rentals.

“I didn’t expect it this early, but there’s a group that’s real good friends and they’re all going together,” she said.

Northside High School’s Brooke James will be going solo to her prom.

“I think now it’s more common to go, even if you don’t have a date,” said Lynn Watson, the mother of the 17-year-old whose boyfriend is in the U.S. Army and can’t make it home.

Brooke couldn’t make a decision on a dress after trying on a straight gown of slinky material that melded into different shades.

With a lilac sequined waistband, the dress went from dark purple at its wide straps that crossed in the back, transitioned into a magenta skirt that flowed back to dark purple at the hem.

She was looking for something flowing and poofy at the bottom.

Ingleside clerk Sydney Causey said she’s sold gowns of varying styles this year.

“Usually it trends like, ‘I want mermaid, or prints,’ but this year it’s all over the place,” she said.

House of Hines also has sold a variety of dresses this season and actually sold out of their full-skirted ball gowns.

Last year, the trend was more short and bi-level gowns.

“Hi-los are a good dress to wear because it’s easier to walk with the shorter hem in front,” said Bettie Causey.

One of their hottest sellers last year was a black and white print dress that was short in the front and trailed to the floor in the back.

The girl purchased a pair of sequined cowboy boots to match.

“Everywhere you go, you see girls wearing cowboy boots,” Bettie Causey said.

No matter the style, uniqueness is of paramount importance.

Most formal wear stores keep a record of who purchases a dress so they won’t sell an identical gown to another girl going to the same prom.

Geraldine Davis likes the fashion log. She traveled to Atlanta in the mid-’80s to get her own prom dress so no one else in Taylor County would have the same style.

“You don’t want to say, ‘Dog, she’s got the same dress,’ and you’re wondering all night if the other girl looks better in it,” Davis said.

Last year, she bought two dresses for Keziah, one for dinner and the other for the dance.

The Visa survey shows Southern parents were the second-biggest prom spenders in the nation, at an average of $1,047.

The Northeast region topped out at $1,944, with Westerners at $744 and Midwesterners spending an average of $698.

The teens themselves chipped in about 40 percent of the cost, the survey showed.

Young people might shun dress clothes the majority of the time, but when it comes to prom, they often splurge for movie star glamour, Bettie Causey said.

“When they get dressed up and look at themselves in the mirror, they love it.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-0303.

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